Blissful and Domestic - Creating a Beautiful Life on Less: How To Eat Out on a Budget

Saturday, July 13, 2013

How To Eat Out on a Budget

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A few weeks ago I posted a selfie on The Gram. I was all ready to go out with the family to Panera Bread for lunch. We were going out to eat for our family night. Some sweet friends had a few questions about how we do this on a budget, how often, and any tips and tricks we do to save. All these questions spurred this post and I hope I will be able to give you some tips and tricks on how you too can live on a budget and eat out occasionally.

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This first thing to remember is that eating out is not an every night sort of thing, unless you're swimming in money, which I am not, but if you are can I please come over and swim too? If you are not swimming in money, than eating out needs to be done on a budget. Even if it is done on a budget, it can add up quickly. Below are a few quick tips to help you when eating out on a budget.

1. PLAN- Plan when, where, and how much it will cost you and your family. Make sure you have the money in your account (once bills and essentials are paid for).

2. MENU- Look up the menu before you go. Most restaurants and fast food chains have their menus online. Hubby loves to look up menus before hand, since it gives you a better idea of price and type of food. In May, hubby and I went to a Osaka's. It is a fun, Japanese restaurant, where they cook the food in front of you. So freakin awesome! It can get pretty expensive though. Hubby and I looked up the menu before hand, so we knew what we wanted and how much it would cost. Because we had been prepared, there was no surprise when the check came. We knew we had money to cover not only the food, but the tip as well.

3. COUPONS- A lot of times restaurants will send out coupon fliers in the mail. I know that Sweet Tomatoes (only like my favorite place ever!) sends out coupons every month. They usually come with the grocery adds. They have a coupon where a family of four can eat for $24.99. By using the coupon, you save $20 on your family's dinner. That is some insane savings folks! Restaurants also offer online coupons you can print out. Using coupons is a great way to save a bit of money, so eating out is more affordable. It does not make it less romantic to whip out coupons on a date night with your love. Heck I think I would love my hubby a bit more if he showed off his mad coupon skills. It would definitely be a happy night :) So whether you are doing a family night or date night, make use of the coupons. You could even share coupons with friends. Then everyone saves!

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4. FREE- Don't you just love that word? I do! Most places offer free water cups, so ditch the soda (its healthier) and save! We did this when we went to Panera Bread. By skipping soda, and using the provided free water cups, it saved us $10.

5. PORTIONS- Here in America we like things bigger and oh yeah bigger! Because of that, the portion sizes at restaurants are pretty darn ridonkulous! Most dinner portions could have fed a family of four in the 20's. Isn't that cra cra (means crazy)? I mean, that really blows my mind! When you are going out you can ask for a lunch size portion or share a meal with a friend. Sharing will save you calories and money:) We also sometimes have our kids share a meal when we go out. When we eat at Costco (the best place for a quick, affordable meal), we have our kids share. Their pizza slices are GIGANTIC! You can actually ask to have that one slice cut into two. You can also ask for one smoothie to be split into two cups. Neat right? Each child gets their own plate, but you are only paying for one meal between the two of them!

6. MAKE IT SPECIAL- Don't make "eating out" your savior. When it is 5 and your dinner plans have gone awry, don't have McDonald's come to your rescue. Turn to something quick from your pantry. Like a canned soup. You can also quickly whip up eggs, pancakes, or heck sometimes we do PB and J sandwiches. Having sandwiches for dinner is not going to be the end of the world. In fact your kids might just like it:) When you are going to eat out, make it special. We don't eat out very often, so when we do our kids know it is special. 

7. ORDERING UP- Be careful when servers ask if you would like a "larger size" or additional toppings. Most of these things are not free, but will be added to your total bill. Always ask if the "up-sell", As The Economides call it, is free.

8. LEFTOVERS- Can't finish your food? No worries, ask for a takeout box. Taking your unfinished food home, will allow you to have a free lunch later on in the week.

9. DOULE-CHECK THE CHECK-  This is so important. Accidents happen. You don't want to pay for something that you didn't order. You also should be honest and let your server know if they forgot something.

10. KIDS EAT FREE- This is so dang sweet! Alot of places have certain days of the week where kids eat free. Going to sit down places can add up, but when you factor in that kids eat for free, It becomes is doable. So check out when your favorite family restaurant's "kids eat free" days is.

11. HAVE FUN- This has got to be THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE! When you are going out with the family, enjoy it! Put down the phones and talk. Unplug yourself and focus on the time spent with those you love. Giggle, joke, people watch (does anyone else do this?), tell stories, you get the gist. Just have fun being with your family.

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 So there you have it...11 tips to get your family eating out on a budget. Make it special and have fun with that family of yours. Living on a budget does not mean you have to live a boring, un-fun life. All it means is being smart! You can do it! If you have any other eating out tips and tricks, share it in the comments below or on the Blissful and Domestics Facebook Page.

Have a great weekend!

You can find more tips like these in Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America's Cheapest Family -- Its a must read!

XO Danielle

My Book is now available to purchase :)


  1. We have a program sponsored by a local TV channel called Daily Deals--they regularly run restaurant specials where you can buy a gift certificate at half price. I just got one for $16 worth of food, but it only cost $8. We've bought these several times when they run them for restaurants we like and haven't had any issues. Sweetjack frequently runs ones like this too, love it!

  2. Great tips! I love your advice not to use eating out as your savior on nights when you don't want to or don't know what to cook. We end up doing that often on the weekends and end up not preparing g properly - we forget coupons at home, don't research prices, etc... I have always been one to check prices when I order and only get water, but my husband is another story. It drives me nuts when he orders the most expensive item on the menu, gets a beer, and asks if I want an app!!! So, I try to plan things myself and stay in when we can!

    Great list! Thank you!


    1. My husband is the same way! He will end up having 2 or 3 beers and then when we get the check, he complains!! LOL So, I've kind of put the nix on eating out unless it's a special occasion!

    2. My husband does the same thing! By the end of the meal he's had 2-3 beers and when the check comes he complains! LOL So I've pretty much put the nix on eating out unless it's a special occasion!

  3. Great tips! I just wanted to comment on 2 of them. With #7 (and this also kind of goes with #5), sometimes taking the upsell when it includes more food and sharing the extra amount, will allow you to forgo another dish entirely. We have taken to doing this at fast food restaurants often. My husband will order a combo meal for himself and get the largest size available. The kids and I all get a sandwich from the dollar menu and water. He then shares his fries and sometimes the soft drink (though if he shares the soft drink, we do not take any of the free refills, as that would be dishonest. Occasionally, we will also splurge for the toy from the kids meals (most places sell them for separately for about $1), so the kids still feel like they are getting a special meal. It allows us to feed our family of 7 for less than $15.

    Also, regarding #10, be sure to check if there is a limit to the number of free kids meals you can get per table, or adult. We are finding fewer and fewer restaurants are allowing more than 1 child per adult to eat for free, although there are still a good number that allow 2 children per adult. It stinks to think all of your kids are eating free and then when you question the bill, they tell you that only 2 of the 4 meals were actually going to be free.

  4. In the past, the Hubs and I would just "grab a bite" at a local restaurant if we didn't feel like cooking. Not anymore!!! Now I freeze leftovers and keep an "emergency" pizza on hand for nights like that. No more eating out unless it is pre-planned!

  5. Great tips! I totally agree. I know you are in Vegas and we were just there a couple of days ago. We went to The Hash House, which I thought would be way expensive, but the nice waitress we had told us that the meals were big enough for two so we ordered on thing and two plates. It was delicious and not that expensive. It is in a casino on the strip so I don't know if it would be a great place for littles but for date night with hubby, it was great. Thanks for the tips (and I agree that the Economides book is great.)

  6. Great ideas! In addition to free kids meals I like to watch for deals on groupon

  7. We have ordered water almost all the time for quite a few years now. When we first started doing that, we were still working and ate out more often. We put the cost of the drinks we WOULD have ordered in a jar for a while. In a very few months, we had an extra hundred dollars spending money for our next vacation.

    There really is no reason to order drinks at restaurants except for very special occasions. We have all kinds of drinks at home, bought on sale and stockpiled. We can enjoy them for so much less at home.

    Our eating out now is mostly for appointment days in the city. We are gone several hours, combining errands with the appointment, sometimes two appointments. Lunch out is a necessity. Other than that, it is mostly confined to birthdays and anniversaries.

    We seldom just order carry out on those BAD days anymore. I keep frozen pizza and the supplies for making it homemade. There are always sandwich supplies, hot dogs or sausages (which can be bought on sale and kept a long time), and often good leftovers to microwave. This is usually just as fast as buying something else.

    I would be glad to just have eggs and toast, but my husband simply thinks eating breakfast for dinner is weird.

  8. Hubby & I use coupons on the backs of receipts. Some of our favorite places like Jack In The Box & Rally's give coupons for free food if you do their phone survey about your visit. This helps save us money when eating out. Water is another thing we do OR (since there's only two of us) we'll get one soda and share it.

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  9. You are the queen of thrifty living, I've forwarded your posts to friends around the world, trying to live on a small budget, but I read this post as we were eating out in a restaurant, and it was super right on! It was just me, the husband and the baby, and we had ordered 1 adult item, 1 children's item and water. I felt really proud:)

    Keep up all your great posts!


  10. We are big into eating out on a budget and we never do drinks except water. The one thing I did learn for your article was the online coupons... Going to start doing that. We do the special almost always and hit the discount hours when we can. Cocktail hour (no we do NOT drink) offers great discounts on meals and such. GREAT tips... We are always learning something new from you daily!! Jorge/Evielynne

  11. Such great advice!! Thank you!!

  12. Super great advice! I just love your blog to death! And by the way, your hair looks adorable!! Any chance you could do a tutorial on how you get those curls? :o)

  13. Great tips! Something we do is always look at the kids meal price verses regular price. If kids meals are $4 and both kids want hamburgers you can probably find a hamburger about $4 that is a lot bigger then the kids size and have the kids split it. We do this at Cheddar's. I also take my food and divide it in half, I eat half at the resturant and the other half later at home.


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